Kenya’s overall unemployment rate is around 10%. But for Kenyan youth (defined as people between the ages of 15-24), the unemployment rate is 35% (Kenya Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries). At the global level, a staggering 80% of youth are unemployed (World Bank, 2014). Work experiences play a critical part of preparing youth to transition into adulthood, and add tremendous value to economies and communities. The high unemployment rate of this age group, in Kenya and around the world, negatively impacts their lives now and in the future.
There is support in Kenya for engaging youth in employment activities. Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of Kenya, was recently chosen as the global Champion of Young People’s Agenda by the United Nations, because of his work in this area. President Kenyatta said, “We must give young people education, and employment opportunities if our societies are to live up to their full promise.” (Read more here.) President Kenyatta has also made food security and nutrition one of the pillars of his “Big Four Agenda” for Kenya.
How does this relate to agriculture? Agriculture is backbone of the Kenyan economy, contributing 24% to the annual GDP. There is a huge opportunity for youth to play a part in the agriculture sector in Kenya. Yet, we do not see an increase of youth in this space. Why?
There are many reasons that youth may be resistant to being involved in agriculture. These challenges may sound familiar to many of us. Farming is seen as a job of last resort and one that generates little income. In some cases agricultural work is used as a punishment. For example, when a child misbehaves at school or at home, that child will earn an hour or two of weeding.
Additionally, millennials tend to live fast-paced lives, and they may want to achieve results quickly, which isn’t always possible in agriculture. This generation has grown up with more access to technology than previous generations. Yet, they don’t always see the power and application that technology can have in agriculture. While these are some of the largest setbacks I have observed in engaging youth in agriculture, I argue they are the tools we need to use to engage youth.
Changing perceptions, changing outcomes
As I work with young people, I see a great need to challenge the perception that farming is mundane and low profit. Applying the right knowledge and technology can make agriculture very profitable. I had the pleasure of meeting two young farmers who quit their day jobs in Nairobi to raise Kuku (chickens). They have been very successful, and they teach other young farmers around them to do the same. They are breaking down barriers, showing young people the possibilities that exist in farming.
The pace at which young people want to move and create change is often frowned upon by the older generations, who see it as impatience. But there is a real opportunity to harness this impatience and use it as a force for positive change. If the generations come together in the spirit of cooperation, instead of opposition, the older can teach and mentor the younger. Communities will be strengthened and the agriculture sector will continue to grow and prosper in Kenya.
Finally, using technology should be embraced, when possible. I don’t mean every farmer should get a twelve-row John Deere planter up and running. That is too expensive for most farmers. Instead, equipment can be used cooperatively, by many farmers potentially, such as small tractor-driven tillers that prepare land for planting. Companies like Hello Tractor allow a farmer to request a farm service when needed, without having to spend the capital to own the machine. This program is like Uber for farm equipment! This makes technology more accessible, more affordable, and increases the success of many farmers. As technology continues to develop at a fast pace, young people are more likely to embrace and utilize technology than their elders. Young people can drive technology use and development in agriculture, if they’ll give it a chance.
I love working with young people and showing them how relevant and interesting our industry is. By changing the narrative around farming, encouraging cooperation and inclusion of all generations in farming, and by continuing to apply technology to farming, we can fight food insecurity, increase employment opportunities for young people, and change communities for the better.